It feels clichéd to comment on Americans knowledge of world geography but sometimes, just sometimes, a tale must be retold.
A year or so ago we were on a holiday, a vacation, where a goodly proportion of our fellow travelers were from the US. Early in the trip we fell into conversation with another couple who happened to be from the States. They were lovely: well read and well-travelled, interested in their surroundings and their traveling companions. They heard us chatting about our plans for the day and quickly struck up a conversation. Lovely accents, they said. Were we from Australia? It wasn’t the first time we’ve been asked so we smiled and said no. English, but not living in England we said. We live in Cyprus, in the south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean.
That bit about the south-east corner of the Med is important, we’ve found it heads off other confusing conversations. Not any of the north American cities called Cyprus in north America. Not the Cyprus off the coast of Italy (no, there isn’t one). Just the island of Cyprus snuggled down in the corner of the Med. Occasionally we mention that we’re only 70 miles from Syria but not often, it depends on the person.
Anyway, having established that it was the country of Cyprus our fellow travelers looked excited. What an amazing co-incidence, they said. Someone they knew, a family member, was in the process of buying a newly built property in Cyprus right now. Perhaps we knew the development? Or the developers? Sadly we didn’t recognise the name of either. When they mentioned the price of the property, a seven figure sum, that wasn’t so surprising. Not so many properties like that round our way.
But we were curious: roughly where was the property? They hummed and hawed and consulted each other but weren’t entirely sure. On the eastern coast they thought, perhaps along a big peninsular or promontory. They thought the nearest airport began with an E or an H. Our hearts fell and we exchanged concerned glances; the only place in eastern Cyprus that fits that category is the Karpaz peninsular, known colloquially as the panhandle. It is in the North, the area occupied by Turkey since 1974. Buying property there is fraught with difficulty, even for those who understand the issues and the pitfalls.
There are some people, many of them English we’re sorry to say, who have made fortunes by selling land that isn’t theirs to sell. When the events of ’74 took place many, many people were forced to abandon their homes. Almost 40 years later they haven’t been able to return and some people have taken the opportunity to sell the houses or the land on which they stand or the olive or citrus groves that they owned to developers.
It is possible to buy land in the North at a 30% discount to that in the south, but to do so is risky at best. There have been well documented cases of people buying land only for the original owners to come along later and demand their property back.
Carefully we explored just how much of this they knew. Not an awful lot it turned out. They had a vague recollection that the history of the island was troubled but not that it was still divided or that there was an ongoing UN peace-keeping force.
They knew nothing of challenges of buying property in the disputed north but were quick to understand that the transaction that their relative was considering might be at risk. We suggested some research that they might want to do once they were back at home and we gave them details of a lawyer who had a reputation for being honest, unbiased and experienced in difficult property transactions.
They took copious notes and thanked us for our concern and the information we’d provided. As we left to start our day of exploring they were deep in discussion and both looking troubled. Throughout the day we returned to the subject. Imagine being on the cusp of buying an expensive property thousands of miles from home and finding out that the whole thing might be at risk!
That evening they spotted us as we were heading to dinner. They rushed over to speak to us but with large smiles on their faces in place of the looks of concern when we had parted earlier.
We spoke with our relative, they said, and it’s going to be ok!
Well, how can you be so sure, we asked.
Well it turns out that the villa is in Crete, not Cyprus, they said.